Superintendents, Westport’s new one included, optimistic and wary at state meet
HARTFORD — Excellence and equity were the buzzwords that played into just about everyone’s remarks Monday at an annual back-to-school meeting of the state’s public school superintendents.
Westport’s new superintendent, Colleen Palmer, called the meeting a chance to recharge batteries.
“I have come to realize it really doesn’t matter what your approach to education is,” said Palmer. It’s the quality of a student’s experience, she said.
With statewide test scores and graduation rates both up, some 100 school superintendents from around the state heard an upbeat back-to-school message from Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell filled with optimism.
“A lot is going right,” Wentzell said, calling this time of year “New Year’s Eve” in education circles. School for most districts starts within two weeks. The annual gathering was held at A. I. Prince Technical High School.
Although there is progress, Wentzell said there is more to do.
And schools, Wentzell said, have to be made appealing enough that students want to attend.
In 2014-15, more than 56,000 students were absent more than 10 percent of the time, making them chronically absent. By 12th grade, 18 percent of class skips school chronically.
Wentzell said the state is committed to be welcoming for all students.
“Including immigrants and refugees,’ Wentzell said. “Including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Including populations that in other states and other places (such students) have not been met with the same open doors.”
For all its optimism, the meeting also held a tinge of foreboding.
Most school districts in the state received less funding from the state for this school year than last year.
Many face tough decisions. Money woes are such in Bridgeport that school cops and kindergarten aides have both been eliminated, and some high school students face taking two city school buses before sunrise just to get to school in the morning.
Rabinowitz said a study is under way to figure out how many students who have a difficult commute to school are also absent a lot of the time.
“I also absolutely believe having a person in school that students feel connected to in a real and deep way is incredibly important,” Rabinowitz said.
This year, there will be close to 542,000 students in more than 1,400 public schools statewide.